Miller leads nation in sacks, chasing A&M record
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — About once a week, Texas A&M junior sack specialist Von Miller checks in with the man who holds the record he's chasing.
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Miller leads the nation with 13½ sacks as the Aggies (5-3, 2-2 Big 12) head into Saturday's game at Colorado (2-6, 1-3). He needs seven more sacks to pass the Texas A&M single-season mark of 20, set by defensive end Jacob Green in 1979.
Green now works for the school's athletic fundraising foundation and has an office at Kyle Field. Miller's father, also named Von, asked Green to mentor his son when he arrived at A&M in 2007, and Green happily obliged.
The two talk about football, school and life, and Miller tries to absorb every word from Green, who played 13 seasons in the NFL. Naturally, the record has been a topic of conversation lately, but Miller gets the feeling that Green wants him to break it as much as anyone.
"He's pushing me a little bit," Miller said. "It feels good to have him on my team, instead of against me, I guess."
The Aggies have four games left in the regular season, and Green hopes he's the first person to congratulate Miller when he sets a new mark.
"If anybody's going to do it, I'd love to see Von do it," Green said. "It's been a long time for that record. And if Von breaks that record, that means the Aggies are being successful and we all want that football team to be successful. That's a big part of it."
Texas A&M is still a long way from the glory days of the "Wrecking Crew," the label earned by the program's dominant defenses of the 1980s and '90s. This year's Aggies rank last in the Big 12 in scoring defense (30 points per game) and total defense (401 yards per game).
But Miller has emerged as a standout from the "jack" position, a blend of defensive end and linebacker that allows him to roam along the line, attack from different angles and utilize his speed to break into the backfield.
"I really just react to what's going on," Miller said. "I just line up and go."
Miller compiled 5½ sacks and 66 total tackles as a linebacker in his first two seasons. He told the coaching staff after last season that he was ready to do whatever was necessary to have a breakout year in 2009.
"He's been a different person since last winter," defensive coordinator Joe Kines said. "He says, 'Coach, I made a decision, I made a decision to get better.' There's a great lesson in life right there."
Miller focused on each day, each workout, and resisted the urge to look too far ahead, at records or the NFL dreams he started having in middle school.
"I just pushed myself to finish every rep, to finish every run," Miller said. "I knew that if I didn't cut any corners, I could get a lot better in the offseason.
"I just didn't want to be mediocre," he said. "Why practice, why train, why do all that running, if you're not going to try to be the best? Why would you put in all that work if you're just trying to be average?
Coach Mike Sherman said Miller went through a "growing-up period" in the spring and summer, and seemed transformed when he arrived at fall camp. It showed immediately — Miller recorded eight sacks in A&M's first three games, leading the Aggies to easy victories.
"He's come a long way from where he was a year ago," Sherman said. "That plays as much as anything in his development. Scheme is scheme. We try to utilize him and highlight his talent, but at the same time he's taken hold of that and ran with it. If he hadn't done that, then the scheme wouldn't have mattered."
Miller has three sacks in the last two games, both victories. He has 15½ tackles for loss this season, which ranks fourth nationally.
Opponents have geared blocking schemes toward stopping him, and Miller doesn't seem fazed.
"I've seen teams put a tackle and a guard on him, sometimes they put a tight end out there to help, just to chip him and throw him off," Green said. "He doesn't seem bothered or doesn't seem to realize it, because he's just out there playing and he's just working so hard to get in there."
Green said most of the NFL's greatest pass rushers developed three isolated moves to get past linemen. He says Miller has two down pat — a speedy, outside rush and a quick inside maneuver. Green would like to see Miller add a spin move to his repertoire.
"I honestly don't think he's reached his full potential yet," Green said. "If he hangs around one more year, gets a little stronger, I don't think there are too many guys in college football who'll be able to block him."
Miller is sticking with his day-to-day approach, trying his best to put Green's record and the lure of the NFL out of his mind.
It's all worked well for him so far, he says, so why change anything?
"If I perform to the best of my ability at every practice and on every play, I won't look back and have any regrets," Miller said. "If I take it play by play, and I gave maximum effort on every play, I can live with that. If I play to my full potential, if I take advantage of every opportunity I have here in front of me, the outcome will be what I want it to be."